A prisoner isolated with symptoms of Covid-19 was not allowed to exercise or shower for two weeks.

A report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, produced after short day visits to three prisons earlier this month, details how HMP/YOI Portland took action to limit the spread of the virus.

While Portland prison has been praised for taking ‘swift action’ to contain the spread of coronavirus, inspectors also raised ‘significant’ concerns, including an increase in self-harm.

Inspectors found the prison had accommodation in which to isolate prisoners with symptoms of, or those who had been confirmed as having, Covid-19, however they had ‘significant concerns’ about how symptomatic prisoners were treated at Portland.

These prisoners were not let out of their cells for exercise and had no access to showers during their isolation.

Isolation periods were at least seven days or longer if the symptoms persisted. At Portland, one prisoner had been subjected to this regime for 14 days.

‘This regime was too limited and was not ensuring decent treatment of prisoners,’ the report states.

In addition, of the inmates identified as vulnerable to infection and in need of shielding, only two were shielded as the rest refused, according to the report.

Shielded prisoners received about 15-30 minutes less time out of their cell than other prisoners – who were allowed an hour and 15 minutes - which the reports states was a ‘significant amount of the restricted regime.’

While the prison saw an initial reduction in bullying and violence when the restrictions were introduced in March, the number of assaults at Portland had returned to levels recorded immediately before the restrictions were implemented.

Self-harm increased in April, and ACCT processes (assessment, care in custody and teamwork case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm) continued to operate and prisoners had access to the Samaritans phoneline and ‘listeners’, who are prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners.

Inspectors found good healthcare but noted that the suspension of visits had impacted negatively on many prisoners.

Portland inmates largely relied on communal wing phones, which made it difficult for them to speak to family or friends at length. This was made worse on some wings due to some communal phones being broken. However, a family engagement worker at the prison has sent email updates to around 50 families to keep them informed, and isolated prisoners could use mobile telephones in their cells.

The prison was praised for allowing key work to continue for about a third of prisoners and gym staff ran regular exercise classes for each wing. Prisoners were generally able to access about two sessions a week.

Inspectors found managers at three prisons, including Portland, were‘rightly frustrated’ that, despite significant effort, only a very small number of prisoners had been released under the End of Custody Temporary Release Scheme.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the report on the visits highlighted the challenges of running the prisons safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, he said: “While noting the success of action taken to prevent the spread of the virus, this report also highlights significant issues [including] the, as yet, negligible impact of the End of Custody Temporary Release Scheme and disparities in social distancing within and between establishments.

“It will not be possible to run a safe and decent regime without social distancing for some time and it should therefore be a priority for managers at all levels to ensure social distancing becomes established and embedded among both staff and prisoners.”